Right now, we Jowerses are on Edisto Island in South Carolina. We like Edisto, mostly because of the things that aren’t here. For instance, there are no high-rise condos, no bumper-to-bumper traffic and no big gatherings of lowlifes-gone-wild. There are a few pests on the island, mostly biting gnats and Yankees. And the gnats aren’t all that bad.
Now don’t get me wrong—I am not anti-Yankee. Some of my best friends are Yankees. Of course, the Yankees that I’ve chosen for friends are good Yankees. They’re very much unlike the constantly complaining ones who were forced to relocate down South if they wanted to keep their jobs. And they’re a breed apart from the drunk golfing Yankee men, who’ve been driven crazy by their loud, big-earringed wives and now shame themselves by pinching our honorable native waitresses.
I wouldn’t even bring up Yankees in South Carolina if it weren’t for the way they go around correcting the natives’ pronunciation. Well, that and taking up two parking spaces, arguing with the local shopkeepers and making fun of the Piggly Wiggly. Hint to Yankees on Edisto: all the people wearing the “I’m Big on the Pig” T-shirts are doing it just to get on your nerves.
Just yesterday, I witnessed a Yankee couple arguing with a local shopkeeper. The Yankees were trying to tell a native Edistonian how to pronounce “Edisto.” I swear.
“It’s eh-DEES-toe,” whined the Yankee.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said the shopkeeper. “I’ve been here all my life. It’s ED-is-toe. Accent on the ‘Ed.’ And the letter ‘i’ is short. As in ‘get a grip, don’t give me lip.’ ”
“Well,” the interloper continued, “there was a gal back at the gas station who said is was eh-DEES-toe. And the gal was Southern.”
Ah, another Yankee who has mastered all Southern dialects, just from watching television and Gone With the Wind and listening intently to the gal at the gas station. I am truly amazed how such fine-tuned non-Southern ears can process all the nuances of all Southern speech in one trip to the beach.
While I’m thinking about Southern dialects, let me gently offer this to non-Southerners touring the South: Most likely, the only authentic Southern speech you’ve ever heard came from the lips of Andy Griffith, who was born in Mt. Airy, N.C. When Griffith was playing Andy Taylor, all the words and phrases that came out of his mouth were the genuine sounds of a Mt. Airy boy born ca. 1926. You can also hear real Southern voices come out of Sissy Spacek (Quitman, Texas) and Holly Hunter (Conyers, Ga.). After that, the pickings on TV and at the movies are slim.
Believe me when I tell you (or run it by the gal at the gas station): I grew up in Aiken County, S.C., and I don’t sound at all like the folks in neighboring Edgefield and Barnwell counties. I do sound like the people right across the river, in Augusta, Ga. And even though I learned how to talk in South Carolina, I can barely understand a native Charlestonian over the age of 60.
Now, while I’m thinking about Yankees visiting Southern gas stations, let me tell you about Billy Carter’s gas station, down in Americus, Ga., ca. 1978. During the spell when Jimmy Carter was president, brother Billy’s gas station got turned into a tourist destination. Every day, non-Southern tourists would stop by, gawk, insult the locals and ask for directions to the old Andersonville Civil War prison.
Well, one day the brain trust at the Carter service station decided to deploy a real enough local half-wit at the door to the station and have him give mush-mouthed, rambling, incorrect directions to any tourist who asked for them.
That didn’t have the desired effect of torturing Yankee tourists, because the Yankees would just ask another guy at the station for directions. So, the gas station folk implemented a scheme in which any member of the gas-station gang, when asked for directions, would give those directions in the same mush-mouth dialect as the authentic native half-wit. I haven’t done any research, but I’d be willing to bet that just about every Yankee who went to Americus during the Carter administration still thinks everybody in Americus talks like a half-wit—and likely none of ’em ever found their way to Andersonville.
I know, I know. We Southerners should love our Yankee tourists. They might argue with the shopkeepers, hog the parking spaces and pinch the waitresses, but they bring some money into town and they’re good for a laugh. In the spirit of cooperation, let me say that I welcome all the good Yankees to South Carolina and Tennessee. Even so, I hope that when you Yankee tourists get back home (and I hope you do), you’ll tell your friends that there’s nothing going on down South except for full-time banjo-picking and TV-preaching. And remind all of your friends and neighbors of the gnats, which can suck all the juice out of a little Yankee in less than a minute.